Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Paranormal is Common Today (updated)

We all know that the phrase the new normal is common today.  Much of its use is due to misconceptions about what normal is or should be.  Even though we often assume that things will conform to expectations, more often than not they do not.

Normal, normality, and other variants such as abnormal, anti-normal, and paranormal are Modernist ideas.  While many of these words, or their roots, are much older, they all get a big increase in usage during the widest breadth of Modernism, ca. 1890-1990.  The Latin root norma refers to a carpenter's square, rule, or pattern.  What could be more left hemisphere Apollonian than this?

Thus, in Dionysian eras like today, normal is less interesting and its use is diminished.

Normal is defined as (from

1. conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural.
2. serving to establish a standard.
3. Psychology . (a). approximately average in any psychological trait, as intelligence, personality, or emotional adjustment. (b). free from any mental disorder; sane.
4. Biology, Medicine/Medical . (a). free from any infection or other form of disease or malformation, or from experimental therapy or manipulation. (b). of natural occurrence.
5. Mathematics . (a). being at right angles, as a line; perpendicular. (b). of the nature of or pertaining to a mathematical normal. (c). (of an orthogonal system of real functions) defined so that the integral of the square of the absolute value of any function is 1. (d). (of a topological space) having the property that corresponding to every pair of disjoint closed sets are two disjoint open sets, each containing one of the closed sets. (e). (of a subgroup) having the property that the same set of elements results when all the elements of the subgroup are operated on consistently on the left and consistently on the right by any element of the group; invariant.
6. Chemistry . (a). (of a solution) containing one equivalent weight of the constituent in question in one liter of solution. (b). pertaining to an aliphatic hydrocarbon having a straight unbranched carbon chain, each carbon atom of which is joined to no more than two other carbon atoms. c. of or pertaining to a neutral salt in which any replaceable hydroxyl groups or hydrogen atoms have been replaced by other groups or atoms, as sodium sulfate, Na 2 SO 4 .
7. the average or mean: Production may fall below normal.
8. the standard or type.
9. Mathematics . (a). a perpendicular line or plane, especially one perpendicular to a tangent line of a curve, or a tangent plane of a surface, at the point of contact. (b). the portion of this perpendicular line included between its point of contact with the curve and the x- axis.

Given its clear scientific connection, one might think that normal has a long history of usage.  In reality, it does not.  Other words such as regular, average, usual and common were used previously.

(click on chart for bigger view)

From the above chart we can see that normal and average where used mostly in the 20th century.  In the 18th century common and regular were more common.  In the 19th century common declines but is still most popular, and, usual became another widely used term.  Common, regular and usual decline as normal and average increase.  I suspect that common ceases to have much scientific use in the 20th century.

So, when we say something like the new normal is we are generally acknowledging that Modernist ideas about assumed patterns or norms have changed or are not working as expected.  In a deeper metaphorical sense, the real important change is that people are not interested in old-fashioned normal behavior or concepts.  While they heed those ideas, they also want and look for deviation and diversity.

This is one reason why the interest in the paranormal has become so common.  Again from

of or pertaining to the claimed occurrence of an event or perception without scientific explanation, as psychokinesis, extrasensory perception, or other purportedly supernatural phenomena.

The phrase without scientific explanation is likely key here as I suspect it is falling apart; it is becoming more acceptable to use science to explain these issues than it was previously, and, in some cases, the paranormal is being viewed as normal.

Post Modernism has blurred the difference between normal and other forms of it.  Television shows such as Ghost Hunters and Paranormal State provide credibility to the normal investigation of such phenomena.  A show called Sanctuary even places humans and abnormals into various factions as allies and antagonists.  We all know that ghosts, werewolves and vampires rule popular entertainment.

In Western Civilization:
(a) when Apollonian metaphors dominate, humans are not animals as man and nature are viewed as being in conflict, and, life and death are separate categories that should not blur.
(b) when Dionysian metaphors dominate, man and nature are one, there is no distinction between humans and animals as we all have our human and animal traits, and, life and death are a continuum of spirituality.

So don’t forget to watch the new season of Being Human, which is about vampires, werewolves, and ghosts—you know, people just being normal.

Update 4 Jan, 2012:
Seems this one may have influenced another

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Culture and the Divided Brain

One of the important themes on this blog is that the asymmetry and lateralization of the human brain influences broad patterns of culture; that while cultures always display characteristics of both hemispheres, at any given time a culture will lean left or right hemisphere; and, that major cultural change is often seen as a transition to one macro pattern to the other.  I discussed these issues here and here.  Following from Nietzsche, left hemisphere cultural patterns are called Apollonian and right hemisphere patterns are Dionysian.  Iain McGilchrist provides the best discussion of Nietzsche’s two patterns and the hemispheres, here.  Additionally, Apollonian is known as Low Context culture and Dionysian is High Context culture based on the work of Edward T Hall, here.  Cultural transitions from one emphasis to the other are called Awakenings, here & here.  In addition, don’t forget Levi Strauss and his two types, the Engineer and the bricoleur, here.

Human thought is mostly unconscious; and it is mostly metaphorical with a small amount of literalism.  Cultural patterns can also be thought of as complex metaphors.  Thus, to say that the brain influences culture it is through the creation of and perpetuation of metaphors.  One good example of broad complex metaphors is the contrast in American culture between the Strict Father metaphor and the Co-parenting metaphor that is also generally associated with republicans and democrats, here.  The strict father is an authoritarian orderly metaphor (left hemisphere) and the Co parenting metaphor is a right hemisphere one steeped in empathy.  Also, note the simple understanding of the bible; the Old Testament is left hemisphere and the New Testament is right hemisphere, authority versus empathy.

Every culture is a complex whole comprised of hundreds, maybe thousands, of complex metaphors that lean one way or the other, hemisphere wise.  One thing to remember is that complex metaphors can change over time, they can be made up of many sub complex metaphors that also change and maybe confound the issue by leaning the opposite way—the Strict Father pattern may have sub metaphors that lean right hemisphere because a touch of empathy is needed.

Awakenings are when a culture’s basic set of complex metaphors switch from one orientation to another, such as, in American history, from Romanticism to Modernism (from emphasizing the right hemisphere to the left one) during the Progressive Era, circa 1890-1920.  During the Awakening metaphors satisfying both hemispheres are stressed, thus the era is exceptionally energetic and cultural entropy increases, here.

This basically sums up one important idea that drives this blog.  The others are the Cultural seasons model, turnings, and the Generations model, both espoused by Strauss and Howe, here.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Mass of Christ

Did the early Christians steal a pagan festival or was it the other way around?

Here is some interesting reading and

Friday, December 2, 2011

80 is Not the New 65

Here is the type of talk that drives me crazy.

Watch this video (I can’t embed it), here.

The constant hype that people will live forever is so stupid.  And, with living longer, they will also work longer.

Back in 1900 when the average life span was about 49 that argument was likely true because there was extra capacity in the human body.  Today, with average life spans in the high 70s, do you really think you’ll be productive after 70? I doubt it.  Most people can't do it physically, mentally, or both.

A small percentage of the population will do this.  I suggest it will be a smaller percentage than most think, less than 20 percent. 80 percent of the elderly need a lot of care, they live propped up on medications, spend too much time in doctor’s offices, and likely have senior moments when they can’t remember anything. The point is that the body is not genetically able to perform at peak levels after age 70.  Ever play golf with old duffers? They talk about one day of golf leading to two days of rest.  If you watch elderly people, they tend to stair step down in their abilities.

In the book the Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism Robert Fogel described how in American history our population's health and stature has vacillated between highs and lows.  In the late 18th century there was a high; people lived longer and stature was robust (eg. George Washington was over 6 feet and not considered overly tall).   By the end of the 19th century average health and stature had diminished greatly.  Over the 20th century both longevity and stature rose again.

Now in the early 21st century I suggest that the trend reverses, stature and longevity will decline.  At the end of recent Apollonian eras (Enlightenment, Modernism) overall health has been better across the population.  At the end of recent Dionysian eras (late 17th century; Romanticism) overall health has been worse.

In other words, since we are in another Dionysian era, be prepared for a big decline in the overall quality of life for most of the population lasting several decades.   If you take care of yourself, you can be part of that 20 percent who live well longer.

Update April 29, 2012:
see the  essay by Mish which is a response to this.